U.S. automaker Ford is halting production at its plant in Cologne for several days between now and October to offset weak demand in southern Europe.

The company's German unit Ford-Werke has applied for approval to shorten workers hours under a subsidised government programme, a spokesman for the company said on Tuesday, confirming an earlier report in daily Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger.

He said it was not yet clear how many days overall the plant would shut down production, but said there would be eight days of production stoppage through mid-July.

Some 4,000 workers will be affected, he said.

Measures such as temporary employment companies, 'mini' jobs and shortened working hours have helped Germany bring the unemployment rate to a two-decade low, although critics say it has broadened the low-paid and temporary work sector.

Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger said earlier production of compact model Fiesta in the Cologne plant would decline by more than 6 percent to 345,000 vehicles this year. Ford declined to comment on that figure.

Ford Germany head Bernhard Mattes told Reuters last month the company would cut production at its two German manufacturing plants in Cologne and Saarlouis, without providing details.

(Reporting by Jan Schwartz; writing by Maria Sheahan; editing by James Jukwey)